Tag: FCO

Palestine is the main target of ethical procurement ban

Westminster Hall debate on “Local government and ethical procurement” House of Commons Tuesday 15th March at 14.30 – 16.00 Introduced by Richard Burden MP

MPs will have their first opportunity on Tuesday to debate two proposed government regulations which seek to restrict even further any discretion that public bodies still have over decisions on contracts, procurement or pension funds other than on strictly financial grounds.

The government is using parliamentary procedures that leave very little opportunity for scrutiny and debate, but Richard Burden MP has succeeded in getting a 90-minute debate in Westminster Hall at 2.30 pm on Tuesday.

Although the regulations cover any kind of action against any country, there is no doubt that their main target are the councils that are trying to take action against illegal Israeli settlements and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

This is clear from two facts:

First, the original announcement did not come either of the two sponsoring departments, the Department of Communities and the Cabinet Office, but in a Conservative party press release on the Saturday before last year’s Conservative conference.

The press release claimed the regulations would stop ‘militant left-wing councils’ boycotting Israeli goods and named Leicester City Council as a target.

Leicester City council passed a motion in November 2014 to ban goods from illegal settlements “insofar as legal considerations allow”. Similar motions have been passed by seven other councils.

Secondly, the Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock announced the next stage of the process not in the House of Commons but at a joint press conference with the Israeli premier, Benyamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem.

There also appears to be a disconnect between the two sponsoring departments, Communities and Cabinet Office, and the two departments actually responsible for trade with Israel, the Foreign Office and the Department of Business.

The UKTI website, sponsored by the FCO and Business, announced new business guidance in December 2014 advising UK firms that that it would “neither encourage nor support” them if they traded with illegal settlements and warning them of legal and reputational risks if they did so:

‘There are therefore clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements, and we do not encourage or offer support to such activity. Financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements as well as other economic activities (including in services like tourism) in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements, entail legal and economic risks stemming from the fact that the Israeli settlements, according to international law, are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory. This may result in disputed titles to the land, water, mineral or other natural resources which might be the subject of purchase or investment. EU citizens and businesses should also be aware of the potential reputational implications of getting involved in economic and financial activities in settlements, as well as possible abuses of the rights of individuals.’

The Communities/Cabinet Office regulations threaten councils with “severe penalties” if they impose a ban or a boycott on trade and investment with any country unless the Government has already taken a decision to impose sanctions.

So while the Foreign Office is warning UK companies and private individuals against trading with settlements, the Department of Communities and the Cabinet Office are threatening to make it illegal for councils and council pension funds to follow their advice.

Britain has a clear position on settlements: “Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible.” Yet at the same time it keeps the settlements in business with EU trade worth €300 million every year.

Total EU trade with Israel was worth €30 billion (£23 bn) in 2014 so trade with settlements at  €300 is just a hundredth of trade with Israel. But whereas the EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner, Israel accounts for only 0.9% of the EU’s trade.  The EU is therefore in a strong negotiating position to force Israel to stop building settlements tomorrow.  Even the UK alone could exert very strong pressure.

If the UK government says the settlements are illegal, but does not have the courage to do anything about it, why oh why is it trying to stop local councillors from representing the views of their local communities by refusing to trade with lawbreakers. It is vital to defend the right of councillors to represent the interests of their local communities.


Why Foreign Office ministers are wrong about recognition

And why Britain is one of the few countries that can help in the Israel-Palestine conflict

Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions, Tuesday 9th June 11.30 am

Attempts by Government ministers to justify their continuing refusal to recognise Palestine are looking threadbare after MPs raised the issue at Foreign Office questions last week.

The Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond did not challenge the statement by aid minister Desmond Swayne that “the Palestine Authority is now ready for statehood” when it was put to him by Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman.

He even forgot the Foreign Office rule and called the country “Palestine” in his reply instead of the officially preferred “occupied Palestinian territories”.

The main reason he gave for witholding recognition was that it would be “throwing away ..an opportunity that the European Union has to exercise leverage collectively by holding out the prospect of recognition or non-recognition as a way of influencing behaviour”.

This overlooks the fact that nine of the 28 counties in the EU have already recognised Palestine (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Bulgaria, Malta, Romania, Estonia and Cyprus).

It overlooks the fact the fact that 137 countries in the UN (out of 193) have already recognised Palestine.

It also overlooks the fact that the House of Commons has voted by 274 to 12 to recognise Palestine.

But the main factor it overlooks is that there is very little leverage in holding out the prospect of “recognition or non-recognition” when it’s pretty clear it’s only a matter of time before we recognise.

If we say a country should be given statehood and is “ready for statehood” and we already call it “Palestine”, then we are close to recognising Palestine as a state. All that is missing is the diplomatic nicety of conferring the recognition by accepting the credentials of its ambassador at the Court of St James.

The other reason the Foreign Secretary gives is one of timing. “We will recognise Palestinian statehood at a time that we judge contributes most to the delivery of a settlement”, as he said at Foreign Office questions this week,.

This seems to imply that the decision is already taken and it is just a question of when to announce it. But he has already passed over several opportunities to say it is the right time to recognise, notably the collapse of the Kerry talks in April 2014.

Palestinians could certainly be forgiven for concluding that Hammond is playing a game with their national aspirations and wants to postpone recogntion as long as possible.

Certainly he sometimes gives the impression of hiding behind the US. He repeated his mantra this week that the “United States … is the only power that has any leverage over Israel” and we should be pressing for “a new, American-led initiative”.

He must surely know by now that this will not happen. Even if President Obama wants one, he could not get another peace mission through Congress.

In any case the EU does have leverage over Israel. The EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner. A third of Israel’s trade is with the EU (while only a fortieth of the EU’s trade is with Israel). The EU’s most generous trading agreement is with Israel, giving it duty-free access to the world’s largest market on condition that it respects human rights and democratic values.

If the EU enforced this human rights clause, suspending tariff reductions until Israel reversed its settlement programme, they could make progress overnight. But this would require a unanimous vote by all 28 members. As well as hiding behind the US, Hammond hides behind the EU, calling for “collective action” when he knows it is unlikely to happen.

The truth is that the only countries in a position to make a difference in the Israel-Palestine conflict are Britain, France and other leading EU countries and the first small step in that direction would be for Britain to go ahead – with or without other European powers – and recognise the state of Palestine.

Foreign Office Questions

Oral Questions to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of progress in peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
William Hague: In the past few days, I have discussed progress with Secretary Kerry and President Abbas, and I will speak to my Israeli counterparts in the coming days. Secretary Kerry’s tireless efforts provide an unparalleled opportunity to achieve a two-state solution. I urge both parties to show the bold leadership needed to resolve this conflict once and for all.
Ann McKechin: The Foreign Secretary will be aware of press stories that the latest report by the European heads of mission in East Jerusalem states that Israeli policies in Jerusalem are aimed at “cementing its unilateral and illegal annexation of East Jerusalem”, with an unprecedented surge in settlement activity. Does the Foreign Secretary concur with that view and, if so, what is he doing to ensure the future of Jerusalem as a shared capital as part of the negotiations?
Mr Hague: Jerusalem, as a shared capital, is part of what we believe is a characteristic of achieving a two-state solution, along with a solution based on 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps and with a just, fair and agreed settlement for refugees. It is vital that that possibility is kept open. That is why so many of us on all sides of the House have voiced such strong disapproval of settlements on occupied land, which are illegal. We make that point regularly to the Israelis—indeed, I will do so to an Israeli Minister this afternoon—and we urge them to take the opportunity of peace.
Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Last December, the Foreign Secretary said that the British Government have been “clear to the Palestinians that there is no alternative to negotiations” and that “we oppose unilateral measures”. What representation has he made to the Palestinian Authority following its return to unilateral actions last week, in violation of its commitment to abstain for the duration of direct peace talks?
Mr Hague: I called President Abbas last Thursday to repeat our view that the only chance of achieving a viable and sovereign Palestinian state is through negotiations. President Abbas assured me that he remains committed to negotiations, so we will continue to encourage him and Israeli leaders to make a success—even at this stage—of this opportunity.
Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): It is essential that both sides return to negotiations and that they recognise that they will both have to make great compromises to secure a negotiated peace. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that the Palestinian leadership has been preparing the Palestinians for peace when terrorists freed by Israel have been welcomed in the Palestinian Authority as heroes? A broadcast by Palestinian Authority TV has honoured Dalal Mughrabi, who was responsible for a hijacking in which 37 Israeli citizens, including 12 children, were killed.
Mr Hague: Prisoner releases are always controversial in a peace process, as we know well in our own country, but I absolutely regard President Abbas, the leader of the Palestinians, as a man of peace, and I pay tribute to the bold leadership that he has shown on these issues in recent months. As she has just heard, I have urged him to continue with that, and we must focus on that point.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): What is Government policy on Palestine applying as a state to be a member of international political or cultural organisations?
Mr Hague: Last week, President Abbas signed and submitted letters of accession to 15 conventions, including the fourth Geneva convention. No decision is imminent or necessary at the moment on these things, and given that our focus is on urging both Palestinians and Israelis to make a success of the negotiations, I do not believe that it would be wise for us or other countries to pass judgment on those applications now.